Ignite Steamboat sparks entrepreneurial spirit
May 19, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Entrepreneurs and small businesses that generate their sales outside Routt County often are invisible to the local community, so it may come as a surprise that the personal incomes of people employed by location-neutral businesses exceed the payroll of the local hospitality industry.
Citing research by Yampa Valley Data Partners, Jay O'Hare, who operates a tech consulting business of his own in Steamboat Springs, said the hospitality industry generates about $52 million in personal income, but the location-neutral sector now generates about $53 million to $54 million in annual income.
O'Hare, who founded Altera Marketing Group to provide clients with online marketing and e-commerce tools, confessed to his audience last week that it can be a little lonely being an entrepreneur in a mountain town.
"I could see things going on outside Steamboat, and I felt a little bit isolated," he said. "I thought, 'There must be other people outside Steamboat I can connect with.'"
Together with fellow entrepreneur Jens Owen, he started a local networking group, Ignite Steamboat, to connect lone eagles and location-neutral businesses on the premise that putting creative people together can lead to something new and exciting.
"You may have half an idea, and someone else might have the other half," O'Hare told his audience at a Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association economic forum meeting Thursday at Steamboat Smokehouse.
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Noreen Moore, who has spent more than a decade researching the phenomenon of location-neutral workers here, said Ignite Steamboat provides a natural step for innovative young entrepreneurs who moved here for the lifestyle and have the itch to find like-minded people and get something new going.
"For them, it's another watering hole," Moore said. "They're invisible to many of us, but they do integrate into the community. They volunteer a lot, but they want to find more people like themselves."
Location-neutral employees, by definition, can work anywhere they choose. Providing a mechanism for them to create and innovate where they live could spell the difference between watching them stay in the community and help to develop the local economy, or watching them go off to Boulder or Boston with the thought that they might someday return, Moore said.
Ignite Steamboat gained momentum after it persuaded noteworthy entrepreneurs from across the country to speak to its members via the Internet video conferencing portal Skype, O'Hare said.
Broadband Internet connectivity that enables Skype, for example, is the backbone of location-neutral businesses, O'Hare said, but broadband also is helping his network put on meaningful speaker programs and attract new members. And Ignite Steamboat also is beginning to attract new location-neutral businesses to the Yampa Valley.
"Entrepreneurs who have cashed out and want to go to a place like Steamboat Springs, Aspen or Telluride see that here, they have a built-in community," O'Hare said. "All of a sudden, it elevates Steamboat as a better place for second-time entrepreneurs."
Moore said it's not the availability of up-to-date broadband that acts as a deciding factor for entrepreneurs looking to relocate to a mountain town. Instead, it's the quality of life.
"Actual broadband capacity is not something that attracts or repels them," she said. "What they want is a sense of community, good schools and a safe place to raise children, and the ability to recognize their neighbors."
Once they arrive, get comfortable and find one another through groups like Ignite Steamboat, they begin to collaborate on things like broadband and the convenience of airline travel, particularly the availability of direct flights to the West Coast, Moore said.
Today, membership in Ignite Steamboat is greater than 230 people, and the presence of a connected community of kindred entrepreneurial spirits within the larger Routt County community is beginning to spur movement here by second-time-around entrepreneurs who already may have cashed out of their first venture, O'Hare said.
"I know of one individual who has moved here and another who is coming in June," he added.
"I think the next thing we could use is a venture capital group or more angel investors," Moore said.
That would allow location-neutral workers to actually germinate the ideas they come up with during meetings of Ignite Steamboat.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com
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